I think most of us (meaning people of my age, who began to read poetry pre-Internet) tend to remember who were the first few poets of our own time we encountered when we first began to recognize that poetry was still being written, now, by living people who went to the supermarket and had arguments with their families, like us. One of those for me was Ai. She was near the beginning (if memory serves) of both Edward Field’s Geography of Poets anthology and of The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, edited by Dave Smith and David Bottoms. I met a lot of poets for the first time in those pages. The first poem I remember reading of hers was in the Morrow anthology–“Twenty-Year Marriage.”
Auden says in the elegy for Yeats, “The death of the poet was kept from his poems,” but picking up the book for the first time since hearing of the death (in this case, a tandem reprint edition of Cruelty/Killing Floor, Thunder’s Mouth Press), one notices change as well as lack of change. The poems are still vigorous, sinewy; their effects are immediate. But they are touched around the edges with something–a little gilt, a little glue? (“Sad friend, you cannot change”).